Category Archives: Deck Garden

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Win $5,000 for your School Garden from Dole and Captain Planet Foundation

School gardens provide such a unique learning environment for kids. I’ve seen gardens used to teach science, math, history, social studies, art, language, and other subjects, in addition to teaching kids the mastery and joy of caring for living things, and the methods to grow and harvest their own food and other items. Often school gardens are the only places in which kids will gather these crucial experiences and even get outside during their school and home days.

So I was thrilled to learn that DOLE Fruit Bowls® and Captain Planet Foundation are teaming up to host the “DOLE Fruit Bowls & Captain Planet Foundation’s Learning Garden Challenge.” The contest will recognize K-8 schools that have established school gardens that provide occasions for learning and environmental stewardship, and an understanding of the role that fresh fruits and vegetables play in a healthy lifestyle.

If your school has a learning garden, you could win $5000 plus a bunch of other prizes from Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation — It’s easy! Enter here. The deadline to enter is March 12, 2014 at 11:59PM ET.

 

This post is sponsored by Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation. The opinions expressed are my own.

Images: Dole, Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

It’s National Pollinator Week: Have fun attracting and helping bees, butterflies and birds
Make a Quick and Easy Valentine Bird Feeder
Happy Earth Day: Beginner’s guide to getting your garden growing
Earth Day and Every Day: 11 ways to make gardening extra fun for kids
The Rise and Fall of New York City’s School Gardens

 

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 14-17, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees

The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 15th this year) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, as the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating the fruits and nuts of trees.

For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the land and the planet.

Here are some easy, fun and meaningful ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat.

Plant a Tree

Planting a tree is a simple and powerful act of faith and stewardship. Even a small yard or balcony can often accommodate a dwarf or potted tree. Alternately, there may be a neighborhood or public space available for the planting. This is a great project for a school, scout or youth group, as well as a family. Some people plant trees in the same place each year and watch them grow over the years.

See Blessings and Poems for Trees below.

Plant Vegetable or Flower Seeds

No space for a tree? No problem! Plant seeds outdoors or indoors that will come up in spring. You may want to plant parsley for Passover or Easter, peas for Earth Day, cosmos for May Day, or pansies for Mother’s Day. Of course, anything that grows will be celebrated anytime.

Try these easy-to-plant seeds, which can be planted in cool weather, are large enough for little fingers to handle, and sprout and grow relatively quickly: beans, gourds, morning glory, nasturtiums and peas.

Take a Photography or Poetry Walk

Sometimes the act of recording your observations with a camera or journal causes you to look around in a different way and notice things and make connections that you might not have made otherwise. Photography and poetry can help us quiet ourselves and focus our time in nature.

Be Kind to Nature

Choose an area near your home to care for for a few hours, in the form of weeding or picking up trash. These simple activities can really deepen our connections to the nature, as well as the people, around us. This can be especially true if we plant and revisit the same tree, or repeatedly care for the same piece of “nearby nature” over the years.

Make an Orange Bird Feeder

Did you know that orange halves make great bird feeders? They’re simple to make, visually appealing and even biodegradable. Best, your orange bird feeder will help you help the birds, at precisely the time when much of their food supply has diminished.

Have a Tu B’Shevat Seder

For those familiar with a Passover seder, a Tu B’Shevat seder is simpler. There are few rules. Hosts and participants decide on the customs that suit the event. Some plant seeds and tell stories that involve trees and tree planting. Others eat plenty of fruit and perhaps only fruit. You may want to choose from or eat all of these seven species which are abundant in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Make a Fun Fruit Recipe

Why not try a new recipe? The following look very inviting:

Make a Root Viewer

For many, the roots of a plant can be just as fascinating as the parts we see above ground. This simple root viewer lets budding botanists view the magical processes that happen below the surface of growing things.

You’ll need:

  • Clear plastic cups, bottles or jars
  • Seeds and dirt

Fill the containers most of the way with dirt.
Plant the seeds close to one side, one or two per cup.
Put them in the sun and water gently.
Watch as roots form and plants sprout.

Blessings and Poems for Trees

At tree-planting time, you may want to recite a blessing or poem to encourage a long life for the tree. If you’d like, pass a chalice of water and have each person who receives it share a wish, thought or memory. Once the chalice has gone around, the water can be used to nourish the tree.

Simple Blessing for the Planting of a Tree

We plant this tree to honor ______  (name of person or occasion). May this tree’s roots go deep, its trunk grow strong, its branches spread wide, and its leaves and fruit provide nourishment, beauty and shade. May it always remind us of this special moment.

Growth of a Tree

I’m a little maple, oh so small,
In years ahead, I’ll grow so tall!
With a lot of water, sun, and air,
I will soon be way up there!

Deep inside the soil my roots are found,
Drinking the water underground.
Water from the roots my trunk receives,
Then my trunk starts making leaves.

As I start to climb in altitude,
Leaves on my branches will make food.
Soon my trunk and branches will grow wide,
And I’ll grow more bark outside!

I will be a maple very tall,
Losing my leaves when it is fall.
But when it is spring, new leaves will show.
How do trees grow? Now you know!

— Meish Goldish

Slow Snippet: In old Jewish homes, a cedar tree was planted for each baby boy, and a cypress tree for each girl. When two people married, branches from their trees were used to create their “chuppah”, or wedding canopy.

Hope you have joyous Tu B’Shevat!
Many of these activities are adapted from  Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

Preserve the Spirit of Summer in Your Family Year-Round

It was the apex of my childhood, over and over
––  inscription in a beach house guest book

For most families, summer is a season lasting approximately 12 weeks. Into it, we pack most of our relaxation for the year, along with our memories, our entertaining, and our sensual experiences –– whether they involve digging our toes into wet sand at the ocean’s edge or biting into a stack of mozzarella, tomato and basil, drizzled with olive oil, and swearing we can taste the Mediterranean.

It’s the season when the sun kisses our faces and causes our children’s height to spurt. It’s the season of wearing less clothing; spending more time with family and friends; eating fresh, tree-ripened fruit; and spending nights playing games or gazing at stars. In summer, time moves just a little more slowly.

When asked to name a childhood memory, most adults will remember an incident or a feeling from summer. While we can’t actually experience the golden season in December, there are a few fun and meaningful ways to harness the spirit of summer for our families to enjoy year-round.

Make Summer Food and Drinks

Many people associate the foods of summer with spots around the globe that bask in warm climates for much of the year. Think Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, African, Southeast Asian, South American, Mexican, Caribbean, Hawaiian, and regional U.S. dishes that use fresh fish, meats, cheese, vegetables, and herbs, and combine ingredients simply for results that are sensuous and robustly flavored. Cooking from warm climates is not only delicious, but can put you in a summer frame of mind any time of year. Try making Chicken Mole, Ratatouille, Easy Weeknight Fish Tacos, All Season Slaw or Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Recreate your favorite barbecue recipes that can be made in an oven or broiler. Roast marshmallows in a fireplace or over a stove flame for s’mores.

Or make the yummy Mango Lassi (instructions at the bottom of this post.)

Camp in Your Living Room

Camping in sleeping bags is fun any time of year, indoors or out. Rustle up some s’mores in a fireplace or over an oven flame. Sing your favorite campfire songs. Tell stories. Make Hand Shadow Puppets by having someone project a flashlight onto a wall, a practice that goes back 2,000 years to Han Dynasty China! (Instructions at the end of this post.)

Have a Summer Movie Marathon

A dead-of winter double feature or an all-out film festival can put your family back in a summer frame of mind. Make s’mores and watch a rustic- or camp-themed movie like The Parent Trap (original and remake), The Great Outdoors, Camp Nowhere, Meatballs or Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Show a classic summer beach or surf movie (and try to explain to your kids that bathing suits really looked like that):  Beach Blanket and Gidget series, Blue Hawaii or The Endless Summer. Enjoy popcorn and a fun road-trip movie, such as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Are We There Yet? and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Have pre-teens or teens? Show Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, One Crazy Summer, Stand by Me or The Flamingo Kid.

Garden for Wildlife Year-Round

Some of the best moments for enjoying birds and butterflies occur during the fall, winter, and spring, even in cold climate zones. This can be when animals most need food and shelter. Watching animal activity, outside or even out a window, can brighten a gloomy day and encourage us to be better in tune with the cycles of nature, especially when we know we’re helping animals find food just when it can be hardest for them to do so. Plant a simple habitat garden with plants that attract birds and butterflies. Make and hang an easy bird feeder and watch the birds enjoy the eatery!

Grow Your Favorite Herbs

Take a page from French gardeners and employ your own potager –– a simple, accessible kitchen garden –– all year. Many herbs do very well in small indoor containers or on a kitchen windowsill. These include basil, chives, cilantro, scented geranium, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and edible flowers. You can also grow lettuce indoors. Enjoy the simple act of growing and snipping a sprig of your herbs to add to a soup, a salad or a meal.

Preserve Food

The best preserved food is made from ingredients that are picked and canned or bottled at their peak of ripeness  –– To open a jar and eat a spoonful of blueberry jam in mid-winter is to taste the summer in which it was made. Even Napoleon, not known for being the world’s most sensuous guy, seemed to understand this on a gut level. After all, it was he who offered an award for the person who could invent a way of preserving food for his armies. That, in turn, led to the modern practice of “canning”, making and preserving jams and other foods to eat all year long. If you still have berries, make my favorite triple berry jam. Berries gone? Then it’s time for yummy apple butter.

Jars of homemade jam make great gifts that recipients know are from your kitchen and your heart. Decorate the jars by tying on a custom gift card with a pretty ribbon. Or make a simple jar topper, which finishes a jar of jam in an especially old-fashioned and pleasing way. Instructions at the bottom of this post.

Preserve Memories with Your Family and in Your Home

Small items can have a lot of power. Did you collect sea shells, rocks, beach glass, trip souvenirs or other items? Have fun creating a display of them that you can enjoy all year long. Or make a mobile of your sea shells by poking holes into them with needles, stringing them on fishing line, and attaching the fishing line to sticks. Frame and hang a map from one of your favorite summer locales. Frame or make an album of vacation or summer photos and view them as a family on a winter’s day. Have family members share their favorite summer memories with one another. You may be surprised at everyone’s picks!

Gaze at the Stars

Even though summer’s Perseid meteor shower tends to get all the glory, fall and winter offer some of the best star shows of the year. If conditions are right, you’ll want to bundle up, make some hot chocolate, pull up a comfortable chair, and look through binoculars, a telescope, or the good ol’ naked eye at the Geminids, or the Leonids, or enjoy the marvelous constellations year-round.

Play Games

My summer memories often involve playing games. There seems to be more time in summer for family play, both indoors and out. Try to keep the lightness in your family and your schedule that allows for play. Play is vital for children’s development and family bonding, and is downright fun! Try these fun playground games.

Indoors? Have a family game night and play one of our favorite card games, Slapjack (instructions at the end of the post.)

Foster a Summer Mindset

In addition to warm weather, summer is often special because families approach the season with mindfulness and joy. Try unplugging or continuing to unplug earlier in the day and more often to create family time. Take walks in nature and play indoor and outdoor games, no matter the season. Keep the calendar as light as possible, even if it means saying “no” to some things or scheduling in family time. Treasure the small moments, which just may become big memories.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. 

–– Albert Camus

Mango Lassi

People in India and around Southeast Asia have been drinking lassis (pronounced “luh-sees”), sweet or spicy yogurt-based drinks, for thousands of years. And, with colorful lassi stands on streets all over the subcontinent, their popularity shows no sign of letting up. For good reason. This cooling drink is great after a spicy meal or on a hot day. It works as a breakfast or a dessert. The yogurt base (traditionally a dahi, which is closer to a curd) is said to enhance digestion. And the offering of a lassi is a gesture of friendship. Yes, all this from a drink.

1 c. plain yogurt

½ c. milk

1 c. frozen mango cubes, slightly thawed

1 Tbsp. sugar

¼ tsp. ground cardamom

dash of nutmeg, if desired

Note: the yogurt and milk can be full-fat, no-fat, or anything in between.

You can make this drink with one medium fresh mango and add ½ c. of crushed ice, if desired. You can also make a berry lassi by substituting frozen berries for the mango, or season the drink with cumin or mint.

Place all ingredients except nutmeg in a blender and puree for two minutes or until the mixture is smooth and any chunks of frozen mango are fairly small.

Pour into tall glass.

Shake nutmeg on top, if desired.

Serves 1

Hand Shadow Puppets

Rabbit – Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk – Link your thumbs together, with hands facing away from you. Stretch your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider – Cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or Dog – Place your palms together, fingers facing away from you. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinky drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel – Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinky and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

Jam Jar Topper

You’ll need:

Fabric pieces (fat quarters used for quilting work well)
Pinking shears or scissors
Rubber band
Ribbon (enough for the circumference of the lid, plus approx. 8”)
Glue, optional

Cut a circle of fabric, approx. ¾” larger all-around than the jar band.

If desired, place a dot of glue onto the top of the lid, and place the fabric onto it.

Secure the fabric with a rubber band.

Tie the ribbon around the rubber band to cover, and tie it into a bow.

Attach a gift card or jar label, if desired.

Slapjack

The Deal: Cards are all dealt, one at a time, to all players. It doesn’t matter if some players have more cards than others.

Object: To win all the cards, by being first to slap each jack as it is played to the center.

Players take turns lifting one card from his or her pile and placing it face up in a common pile at the center of the table. Players must be careful not to see their own cards first. Whenever a jack is turned, the first player to slap it takes all the cards in the common pile and places them in his or her own pile.

When more than one player slaps at a jack, the one whose hand is directly on top of the jack wins the pile. If a player slaps at any card in the center that is not a jack, he must give one card, face down, to the player of that card. When a player has no more cards left, he remains in the game until the next jack is turned. He may slap at the jack in an effort to get a new pile. If he fails to win that next pile, he is out of the game. Play continues until one player has won all the cards.

 

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Back to School: 9 Tips for Taming Fall Frenzy

Seven Ways to Make Summer Last Longer

Enjoy June’s Full Supermoon

Look up in the sky! It’s Supermoon! On Saturday, June 22 and Sunday, June 23, the moon will appear especially large and bright, due to its closer-than-usual relation to Earth. This supermoon, or perigee moon, will be the largest-appearing moon of 2013.

The supermoon will rise from the east around sunset, and then will appear huge and low on the horizon before rising into the sky for the night. Because the moon will be at its fullest Sunday at 7:30 am EDT, both Saturday and Sunday should offer ideal viewing opportunities for those with clear skies.

Read more science behind the supermoon.

Read tips for photographing the supermoon.

The Full Moon

Of course a supermoon is by definition full. People in many cultures throughout history have named the year’s full moons based on the activities that happened during them. The Farmers Almanac calls the June full moon the Strawberry Moon because, for the Algonquin Native Americans, June was synonymous with strawberries. The Cherokee called the June full moon the Green Corn Moon. The Choctaw referred to it as the Windy Moon. Celtic people referred to the June full moon as the Moon of Horses. Throughout much of more modern Europe, the June full moon was known as the Rose Moon, for that flower’s peak.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. This site lists full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Full Moon Gardening

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Whether planting or watching, enjoy June’s full supermoon!

Graphics and Photos: Optics Central, Public Domain, NASA, Susan Sachs Lipman

It’s National Pollinator Week: Have Fun Attracting and Helping Bees, Butterflies and Birds

June 17-23 is National Pollinator Week. It’s a week to celebrate and educate about pollinating animals, such as bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and others, which are extremely vital to our ecosystem. Pollinators support much of our wildlife, lands and watersheds. Nearly 80% 0f the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products require pollination by animals.

There are so many simple ways to welcome pollinators into our home gardens and other outdoor spaces. In addition to helping the earth’s ecosystem and food supply, you’ll also experience the fascination and wonder that comes from observing the animals you attract. Here are a few ways to get more involved:

Find or add an event through Pollinator Partnership, a wonderful resource about pollinators year-round.

Garden for wildlife with tons of tips and guides from the National Wildlife Federation, which offers a Certified Backyard Habitat Program.

Check out NWF gardeners’ favorite plants for attracting pollinators.

Find more information about gardening for wildlife from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Join the Great Sunflower Project and many other citizen science projects that allow you to help researchers right from your own backyard or a local park.

Spring at the Bird Cafe and bird feeder activity.

Make a quick and easy bird feeder to attract and observe birds.

Enjoy beautiful nature during Pollinator Week and throughout the year!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain

12 Fun Family Activities for Screen Free Week

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed April 29 – May 5 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll  on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

 Related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Welcome Spring!

(Updated for 2014: Spring will occur Thursday, March 20, at 16:57 UTC, or 12:57 pm, Eastern Daylight Time.)

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Wednesday, March 20, at 11:02 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 7:02 am, Eastern Daylight Time, and 4:02 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox, the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

Spring conjures growth and new life, play, beauty, flowers, and the return of the sun and longer days. There are many simple ways to honor spring, from dancing a maypole dance to dyeing eggs.

Celebrations of spring happen all season, of course, as buds bloom on trees and the tulips, daffodils and other bulbs planted in the dead of winter show their cheery, colorful heads.

In my neck of the woods, wildflowers and spring bulbs have recently popped their heads up to welcome this expansive and lovely season. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As I often do, at times of seasonal change, I turned to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 15-18, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Make a Quick and Easy Valentine Bird Feeder

Sometimes we forget to feed birds and other wildlife in the winter, which can be precisely when they need it the most because it’s less plentiful in the environment. Why not show a little love by making valentine bird feeders? This very easy project will have you backyard bird-watching in no time. Experiment with different kinds of seeds to see which birds each attracts. Or ask for advice at a plant nursery or pet store. Oil sunflower is a particularly nutritious winter seed that a lot of birds like.

You’ll need:

Cardboard
Heart template, optional
2-3 ‘ ribbon or string
½ cup vegetable shortening, peanut or other nut butter, suet or lard (plus, cornmeal or oatmeal, optional)
2 ½ cup mixture of birdseed (chopped nuts, dried fruit, optional)
Small mixing bowl
Plate, shallow dish or pie tin
Scissors
Spoon or butter knife

Cut a heart out of cardboard, using a template or free-hand.

Poke a hole toward the top and run the string through it. (If using a ribbon, you might want to string it after the mixture has dried a little, using a hole to poke through the hole, as needed.

In mixing bowl, combine peanut butter or other spread with meal, if using.

Spread that mixture over the both sides of the heart with the knife or spoon.

Pour the birdseed and feed ingredients onto the plate.

Place the heart into the seeds.

Hang your valentine from a tree branch or window eave that offers some shelter from wind and weather if possible, as well as a view of visiting birds!

Slow Tip: You can make these with pinecones in the fall. Or use a toilet-paper tube anytime, and either string it up or place it right onto a branch.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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